The North Face #TNF Ultra Endurance Shoe Review

©iancorless.com_TNFUltraEndurance-3919A couple of weeks ago I took a look at the TNF Ultra TRII, I said then that TNF are really getting their act together with run shoes. The recent products from the brand have continued to impress and the addition of the ULTRA ENDURANCE adds another quality shoe that offers runners another option to tackle the trails. The current TNF line up is as follows:

ULTRA TRII read my review HERE

ULTRA CARDIAC read my review HERE

ULTRA MT read my review HERE

and the ULTRA ENDURANCE

In a review toward the end of 2015, when I compared many leading shoes against each other (not all shoes I must stress) the Ultra Cardiac very nearly took top honours, it was just pipped by the Scott Kinabalu Supertrac. (Read the review HERE).

If I did that review now, I strongly feel that the battle between the Scott Kinabalu Supertrac and the TNF Ultra Endurance may well be even closer but the Supertrac would still get the nod from me due to the outsole which is extreme and made from a superior wet traction rubber compound that works really well on a multitude of surfaces, overall comfort and flexibility.

To provide some clarification, we need to look at the current TNF line up and see how (in simple terms) the shoes are to be used so that you can decide which shoe is for you:

ULTRA TRII – Is a dry trail, light and fast shoe for a runner who like a more minimalist feel. Cushioning is 8mm/ 16mm and It has an 8mm drop.

ULTRA CARDIAC – Is a cushioned trail/ mountain shoe that feels plush, fits snugly and works well and on dry trail, wet rock and very moderate mud. Cushioning is 12mm/ 20mm and it has an 8mm drop.

ULTRA MT – Has an aggressive outsole and is designed for off-road use in mud, mountains and demanding terrain. Cushioning is 9mm/ 17mm and it has an 8mm drop.

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Enter the ULTRA ENDURANCE – 9mm/17mm with 8mm drop.

This new shoe from the TNF brand sits somewhere between the CARDIAC and MT and as you would expect, has an 8mm drop. I like this! But then again I would… I am a real fan of 8mm drop shoes and as I have said many times before, this drop sits in the perfect middle ground that can work for most people. TNF have obviously thought about this and hence the continuity between the ‘ULTRA’ range. It’s also fair to say that as the name suggests, the ‘ULTRA’ shoes are designed for running longer and therefore 8mm will be more forgiving.

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Slipping the shoe on, it does feel different to the CARDIAC but more similar to the MT. This primarily due to the gusseted tongue which is secured within the shoe – this holds the foot firmer and in addition reduces the chance of debris getting in the shoe. It’s a winning combination that I love.

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The front (toe box) is wider than both the CARDIAC and MT and therefore allows the toes to splay a little more. Protection at the front is excellent with a very reinforced toe box bumper that will definitely protect against all those unplanned collisions with rocks, stones or other debris.

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Heel box is plush, padded and holds the foot secure and has FlashDry technology.

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Key features of many TNF shoes is ‘Snake Plate’ and the ‘Cradle,’ these two elements are present here in the Ultra Endurance and add to the overall benefits of the shoe.

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Snake Plate adds protection to the forefoot of the shoe and protects against rocks/ impact and so on, TNF vary the plates from one shoe to the next depending on what they consider to be necessary. In other shoes this would be called a rock plate.

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The cradle is designed to hold the rear of the foot more secure and stable.

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The upper is breathable and most importantly seamless, therefore reducing the chance of rubbing, hot spots or the chance of blisters. The upper is welded TPU with suede overlays.

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The outsole is Vibram Megagrip which is making an appearance on countless shoes in the trail world. I need to clarify here that Vibram don’t only make one Megagrip outsole (see here). They do many variations, so, please check! A classic example is the outsole on say the TNF ULTRA CARDIAC and TNF ULTRA ENDURANCE – they use Megagrip but they each have three different variations of the product. The Ultra Cardiac having a more subtle version, the Ultra Endurance a more aggressive outsole for mixed terrain and to draw comparisons, the Scott Kinabalu Supertrace (has a special Scott outsole) that is basically just aggressive, extreme and made from a superior wet traction rubber compound that works really well on a multitude of surfaces.

For example:

Ultra Cardiac outsole:

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Ultra Endurance outsole:

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Scott Kinabalu Supertrac outsole:

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Cushioning in the Ultra Endurance is single-density compression folded EVA which does a great job of allowing you to feel the ground but provide enough cushioning for a long day out.

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IN USE

The upper is seamless and snug and the gusseted tongue is a real pleasure which holds the foot firm. The toe box feels noticeably more roomy in comparison to say the Cardiac or MT.  The shoe feels relatively light but not super light. You really feel as though you are wearing a shoe that will take a battering. This in many respects is reflected in the shoes name, Ultra Endurance.

8mm drop for me is perfect, it provides a drop that allows me to run longer and when I can’t keep my form, the extra height allows for some compensation. As I mentioned above, this is obviously something that TNF have really thought about and the whole ‘Ultra’ range of shoes has an 8mm drop. This is also great as it means I can seamlessly move from one who to the other shoe without having a shock. A clear example of this is that I have been doing road runs in the Ultra TRII and I have been out in the really muddy stuff in the MT.

The shoe works well in mud but it’s not an out-and-out shoe for muddy trails, better get the MT if that is what you need. The Ultra Endurance is a great trail/ mountain shoe that works well and transitions from a multitude of surfaces. As I mentioned above, I believe it would give the Scott Kinabalu Supertrac a run for it’s money as a potential best ‘all rounder!’

To emphasise a point, if you were looking to but just one shoe that could handle many terrains and provide you with happy and many days out on the trail, then the Ultra Endurance would be a good place to start. It’s not a great road shoe, but it will gladly provide a cushioned and responsive ride for road sections between trail. It’s not an excellent performer in very muddy conditions but it does provide some grip that will allow you to progress. Where the shoe excels is when all these elements combine, say on a long training run, long hike or a race when you may well be mixing from road to trail, to rocks, to mud, to scree and so on, here the Ultra Endurance works so well.

It’s a shoe that excels of dry trail, rocky trail (wet or dry) and some road. It has actually become a real favourite when travelling when space is limited and I need a ‘one shoe does all’ scenario. Feel for the ground is good and has improved the more I have run. The first few runs felt a little hard and flat but the shoe bedded in nicely. The Vibram® Megragrip sole is as mentioned, almost becoming a standard feature on trail shoes. the version applied to the Ultra Endurance compliments the shoe perfectly.

Grip in mud is compromised, it always is in a shoe that is designed for trail. That is not a criticism as the shoe is definitely designed to be an all rounder. If you need out-and-out grip and a shoe that will just be used for soft-ground, mud, fells or other messy terrain, you’d be better looking at the TNF Ultra MT or a fell shoe from say inov-8 – the Mudclaw 300 for example is a great off-road shoe.

The heel box holds the foot secure with no slipping. It’s snug and reassuring.

The relatively seamless upper and sewn in tongue really holds the foot secure and has given me no hot spots. It’s a real bonus and it’s great to see that TNF are incorporating this more. For anyone who has used a Salomon S-Lab shoe with ‘endofit,’ a gusseted tongue really is just so much more comfortable. Although the TNF version is different to the Salomon version, similarities can be drawn.

The shoe has a neutral fit as does all the TNF ‘Ultra’ range and so therefore you could add an insert or orthotic if required. Drop is 8mm. Sizing is true to size, I take a UK9.5 in most shoes and my Ultra Endurance is UK9.5. However, due to the wider toe box the shoe does feel different to the Cardiac or MT so you may want to just make sure by trying in-store.

This is not the lightest shoe on the market but I don’t think that is really an issue. It’s not trying to be the lightest. What it does, is offer cushioning, protection and longevity in an attractive package that will last for many days, weeks and months. The colour-way of blue and yellow also looks pretty swish.

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Conclusion

This shoe is a great all-rounder and may well be a perfect ‘one shoe’ purchase for anyone who is looking for something that can do many things well. It excels on dry trails and loose surfaces such as scree, stones, sand etc. Grip from the Vibram sole is good on wet rocks and the shoes transition from trail to road well and the cushioning allows for plenty of happy miles.

The Ultra Endurance can handle mud as part of a mixed terrain trail run but if you wanted an out-and-out shoe for muddy trail, this is not it. It’s a really solid shoe with some serious toe protection, a plus for anyone heading out into mountainous terrain.

I have been working with and running myself in harsh, rocky, desert like terrain in Lanzarote, La Palma and so on and I think the Ultra Endurance would potentially make a great shoe for someone participating in a multi-day race like the Marathon des Sables. The combination of features sits well, the slightly wider toe box, protection, grip and cushioning all combine to make it a great shoe for such an adventure. I will feedback on this after the 2016 Marathon des Sables where I will test the shoe daily.

To draw a comparison, I think those runners who have enjoyed the inov-8 Race Ultra 290 will find the TNF Ultra Endurance very appealing. The plus side being the TNF who has more grip.

The TNF ULTRA ENDURANCE alternative colour-way

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The inov-8 RACE ULTRA 290

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The downsides are minimal for me. It’s a slightly heavier shoe and I have touched on the reasons why above. Longevity in TNF shoes has been an issue in the past so I will hold judgement on this and feedback. Currently after 100+ miles of mixed terrain, the shoes are holding up well with no issues.

The North Face say: With its Vibram® Megagrip outsole, Snake Plate™ forefoot protection and Ultra Protect™ CRADLE™ stability, the Ultra Endurance will keep you tearing up the trail without tearing up your feet. CRADLE™ technology provides extra heel stability on uneven terrain, a gusseted tongue keeps loose trail debris out, while the rigid-yet-flexible ESS Snake Plate™ delivers on lightweight, heavy duty forefoot protection.

▪Welded TPU and suede mid-foot support overlays

▪Molded-TPU toe cap for protection

▪Gusseted tongue for protection from trail debris

▪Ultra Protect™ CRADLE™ heel-stability technology

▪Single-density, compression-molded EVA midsole

▪Vibram® Megagrip outsole for durable sticky traction in all conditions

▪ESS Snake Plate™ forefoot protection

▪Cushioning 9mm front/ 17mm rear

▪8 mm offset

▪Weight per shoe 260g+/- for a UK8

▪Approximate Weight Pair: 510 g

TNF Technologies explained:

Snake Plate™

The patent-pending Snake Plate™ consists of a forefoot plate that winds back and forth between the medial and lateral sides of the foot. Because it is not one solid element, it is not as uncompromisingly rigid from side to side and front to back. The result is a forefoot plate that allows the foot to do what it is physiologically designed to do: flex, bend, and contort to changing terrain. At the same time, the Snake Plate™ delivers rigidity where and when it is still needed. The thickness, composition and size of the Snake Plate™ vary from style to style as appropriate. For example, a thicker, more rigid Snake Plate™ addresses the technical, ever-changing demands of a mountain run. A thinner, more flexible Snake Plate™ reconciles flexibility with a decreased demand for protection while on smoother dirt paths.

Vibram® Outsole Technologies

The North Face® collaborated with Vibram, long respected for quality and durability, to create various outsoles (Vibram® Humbolt Outsole, Vibram® Mikeno Outsole, Vibram® Walsh Outsole, and Vibram® Rubber Outsole Compound) with superior traction, stability and protection.

Ultra Protect™

A shank plate for torsional rigidity and consistent underfoot feel.

The North Face Hyper-Track Guide

Copyright Ian Corless

Copyright Ian Corless

The North Face have always had a mixed response in the ultra and trail world with it’s running shoes. Some people love them, others are indifferent. The original Single Track model had many features of merit and had a strong following (I was a fan). However, runners like Tsuyoshi Kaburaki and Seb Chaigneau wanted a lighter shoe. The Single Track Hayasa was born (Review here).

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The new Hyper-Track Guide in many respects combines aspects of both shoes in what is arguably, The North Faces’s best shoe yet. Read on.

The Hyper-Track Guide are lightweight and like other manufactures the shoe appeals to the market of door-to-trail.  In addition, these shoes may very well fit a gap in the market in terms of ‘drop’. The Hyper-Track Guide with an 8mm drop nicely fills a space in the market between other models such as the Salomon Sense Ultra (4mm) and Sense Mantra (6mm) but other manufacturers such as Scott, are still producing shoes with a conventional drop. I have to say, Scott currently have the T2 Kinabalu for trail and some road running and it is setting the bar by how I judge other shoes it performs so well.

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As the above image shows, a lower drop promotes a forefoot run style.

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The ‘Cradle Guide*‘ helps cushion the impact and canters the heel. The forefoot facilitates the natural supination phase and provides cushion through the force peak.

*The North Face Cradle Guide™ technology offers full Phase Impact Control, a system that guides the foot through all 3 stances of the gait cycle, impact, mid foot and Toe-off. This system is engineered to provide the perfect combination of cushioning, stability and protection for any foot on any terrain, letting the hiker or runner move swiftly and lightly over backcountry trails.

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Many conventional trail and road shoes have a drop of 11mm or 12mm and the current trend for improved ‘forefoot’ running is pushing manufacturers to address the need in the market for lower drop shoes. However, a lower drop isn’t for anybody and if you are a definite ‘heel strker’ you will want to ease your way into using any shoe with a lower drop. The Hyper-Track Guide may very well make that transition easier if that is what you require. At 8mm it offers a ‘middle ground’.

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The sole of the shoe certainly offers more grip in comparison to previous models. Is it enough? Well, if you are heading out in the mud; no!. When a shoe has a selling point as ‘road and trail’ use a compromise is going to be made. The Hyper-Track Guide will work perfectly on hard pack trail or rocks and of course, should you wish to run on the road, it can handle that too. But as soon as you get to mud, the sole has nothing to grip with and you slide.  The sole has strategically positioned rubber pods in the outsole to give excellent grip on slick terrain and resistance to abrasion. Certainly on wet road or rocks it does the job well.

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The upper is extremely breathable like other models in the The North Face range, on a cold or wet day the shoe can feel a little chilly. But that also means that should you be running in the heat, these shoes will be exceptionally cool. They are also great if you run through any water, they drain very quickly. Lightweight is a key feature and this has been maximised by having a ‘sandwich mesh’ upper. The shoes have no sewing or seams. That has to be a good thing as this reduces any potential rubbing. The upper also has TPU welded support overlays to hold the foot in place when in the shoe. This does provide added security to the foot and for such a minimal approach you can feel it work.

The sole has the key Cradle Guide feature as mentioned above. This helps or should I say ‘guides’ the foot through the three phases of the foot strike; impact, mid foot and toe off. Cushioning, stability and protection for ‘any’ foot on any terrain is what The North Face say but ultimately this shoe suits a neutral runner that is already a mid to forefoot striker OR it suits a neutral runner who wishes to progress from heel striking to mid foot striking. In use the shoe feels a little ‘stiff’ in comparison to other shoes and I put that down to the ‘Cradle’ working but also firm cushioning. IF you need that guidance the Cradle Guide may well be a good thing. If you are mechanically efficient, this may well be a little irritating at first. However, the longer you run and the more you feel the benefit of the cradle. So, ultra runners may find that as fatigue hits, the Cradle Guide may very well be a nice addition to help maintain good form. Cushioning is 16mm at the rear and 8mm at the front.

In Use

Copyright Ian Corless

Copyright Ian Corless

The shoe sizes a little large in my opinion. All my previous TNF shoes have been UK9.5 and the Hyper-Track Guide definitely has more room. The toe box has adequate room. But on a first run I did feel my foot move, particularly in the heel area. Laces are superb. They have an elastic stretchy feel and really do hold the foot in place and don’t come loose. The upper with no seams is spot on and breathability is excellent. Weight is 287g for a UK9.5 and this compares well to other comparable shoes.

On the road the shoes felt a little uninspiring. They lacked zip. However, if I started to lift the pace the feel and response certainly became far more pleasurable and responsive. But ultimately they felt hard and at slower speeds I felt as though I ‘slapped’ the ground. What it did encourage was light contact with the ground, so, I thought about my technique all the time while using them. On hard trail the feel was better providing the trail was hard, rocky or sandy. If I went to into mud then the sole offered next to no grip. But, the shoe is not designed for that type of trail. I am merely pointing out that this shoe has restrictions and if you are looking for one shoe to do all then this may well not be it.

So, my impressions are very much around this shoe being used for racing or faster sessions. Of course the term ‘racing’ is relative if we are looking at ultra running, so, if you plan to use this shoe for longer events, you may want to make sure that it will provide the comfort you need over extended periods. The Cradle Guide will certainly help with this.

Jez Bragg used this shoe extensively over the Te Araroa trail, so it does show that you can really run some long distances in them.

Quick rating:

The upper is form-fitting and flexible which made for a snug and comfortable fit in the fore and mid foot areas. The heel felt a little loose but it is possible to adjust the feel by adjusting the lace configuration. Laces are superb.

The Hyper Track is a stiff shoe. The stiffness of the sole almost makes this shoe uninspiring at times, particularly on pavement at lower speeds. Running fast in this shoe is when I felt most comfortable. The 8mm drop gets you on your mid to forefoot and you really think about technique.

The upper is light, breathable and holds the foot well. It has no seams and therefore reduces the possibility of rubbing.

In my opinion it sizes a little large so I would recommend trying the shoe on.

Weight is light at 287g for a UK9.5

Best use – Faster running on hard pack trail

Links:

The North Face HERE